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Iceman 'had bad teeth'

CAT scan reveals 'first form' of dental disease

12 April, 18:53
Iceman 'had bad teeth'

(By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome - The famed prehistoric man known as the Iceman had bad teeth, according to the first CAT scan on the dental health of the 5,300-year-old frozen mummy kept in the northern Italian city of Bolzano.

The Iceman, also known as Oetzi because of the Oetz Alpine Valley where he was found in a glacier by a German hiking couple in 1991, "had tooth decay, deep dental abrasions, and a dead front tooth that was probably caused by an accident or blow," said a team led by Frank Ruhli of Zurich's Centre for Evolutionary Medicine.

The Swiss scientists made 3-D reconstructions of the mummy's oral cavity which showed that Oetzi "also suffered from strong infection of the paradental tissue, which determined a lack of attachment of the teeth to the gum, especially the molars,", Ruhli's team said. One of the team leaders, Roger Seiler, said the Iceman had allowed them to study the "first form of this disease up close," even though it has also been found in Stone Age skulls and Egyptian mummies.

Contemporary medicine has linked such periodontitis, or denegeneration of the bone and gum, to cardiovascular disease," signs of which have already been found in the Iceman.

"It's interesting that the Iceman should also show hardening of the arteries," said Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at Bolzano's Eurac academy who coordinates global studies on the ancient man.

"As in the case of periodontitis, the cause is to be sought primarily in his genetic predisposition," Fink said.

Eurac linked Oetzi's tooth problems to his starch-laden diet of bread and cereals which were "the mainstays of what people first ate after the advent of agriculture".

Officials at the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum, where the Copper Age hunter is kept in a refrigerated cell, are planning to expand the venue to cope with an ever-increasing flow of visitors.

They said earlier this month the venue might be merged with the nearby civic museum in the capital of the Alto Adige (South Tyrol) region.

Since the archaeological museum was inaugurated on March 28, 1998, Oetzi has attracted more than 3.5 million visitors.

In other marks of his renown, he boasts more than 5.5 million Google hits, an ice-cream flavour created in his name, and an iPad and iPhone app.

Created last month, the new app lets youngsters learn about the Iceman's life and the stream of scientific discoveries made about him.

The application aims to provide "fun ways to get to know Europe's oldest natural human mummy", including games featuring his well-known tattoos - rumoured to have been copied by Brad Pitt - and "his extraordinary gear including his bow and arrow", said Bolzano's Larixpress publishing house.

New discoveries about the world's oldest 'wet' mummy are being made all the time.

Last May traces of blood were found on him, the oldest blood sample ever found.

A year ago the first complete DNA map of the ancient man found that he was lactose intolerant, or unable to digest a sugar in milk.

The study also showed Oetzi had a predisposition towards heart disease, a finding corroborated by the thickened arteries in the body.

The mapping said the Iceman probably suffered from Lyme Disease, a tick-borne infection whose symptoms may include fever, headache, fatigue, depression, and a characteristic circular skin rash.

According to an international team, the rugged mountain man also shared a common ancestor with the inhabitants of today's Sardinia and Corsica and his blood group was O.

As well as spurring countless studies and Internet items, the Iceman draws more and more visitors to his Bolzano home.

He had an anniversary bash there in September 2011 when the purpose-built museum celebrated 20 years since two German tourists spotted him peeping out of the glacier.

"Oetzi has been great for us, the city and tourism in the entire region," Archaeology Museum Director Angelika Fleckinger said as the mummy, 2,000 years older than Tutankhamen, 'welcomed' kids to play with prehistoric weapons and offered 'neolithic' food for visitors.

Fleckinger said the anniversary celebrations had a "special resonance" for her.

"Sometimes I think it is so strange. He died 5,000 years ago yet this person, this Iceman, has become an important part of my life".

Forensic science has made great strides since the Iceman was found on September 19, 1991.

"We know so much about him, that he had brown eyes and a few diseases, was getting on a bit at 46, and died from an arrow wound.

"But we will maybe never know what really happened in the last hours and minutes of his life".

The Iceman may still be something of a mystery but his generosity to his adoptive home town is no secret.

According to the most recent figures, the refrigerated man earns a total of four million euros each year for restaurants, hotels and souvenir-sellers, Fleckinger said.

Year round, except for Christmas Day, New Year's Day and May Day, he also raises 3.5 million euros in ticket fees at the restructured bank that houses him.

That means he pays about half of the Bolzano Archaeological Museum's costs, drawing in over one thousand people a day.

This compares to the average of 15% which other Italian museums defray out of visitors' pockets.

The Iceman's status as a global star is reflected by the 26 documentaries made about him by the world's TV companies.

He is perhaps the world's most famous mummy outside Egypt.

The body, which dates back to 3000 BC, has spawned a global cottage industry of studies.

As well as discoveries about what he ate and what illnesses he suffered from, there has been a keen debate on how he died from the arrow wound found in his body - initially, it was thought, in a fight with rival hunters.

One theory says he was assassinated in a tribal power struggle.

Another suggested he was the victim of ritual sacrifice.

Another study - fiercely contested by patriotic residents of the formerly Austrian region who see Oetzi as their proud forefather - reckons he was cast out from his community because a low sperm count rendered him childless.

An eerie aura has also grown around the Iceman because of the allegedly mysterious deaths of seven people who came into contact with him soon after he was found.